Thomas Ruff - portrait

Thomas Ruff

Germany 1958


Thomas Ruff
Thomas Ruff
April 7, 2017
Nina Karaicic is a journalist with experience in TV and radio media. Born in 1989, she had studied at the University of Belgrade – Faculty of Political Sciences (Journalism). Interests: Photography, Art, Film, Folklore, Video Games

Internationally acclaimed for his explorations of photography, Thomas Ruff is best known through his serial works, portraits and digital images. Ruff’s series of photographs of interiors of German rooms received first critical attention, in the past. During the 1980s the artist created large-scale works in color, displaying building facades and printing them in monumental sizes, changing the outlook on architecture. Thomas is well known for his somber portraits of friends that have a unique aesthetics of police photographs from the 1970s. Although he is undoubtedly a talented photographer, it is what he does to photographs that mark his work apart.

terms of copyright privacy for school, print in 1989
Thomas Ruff – Hauser, 1989 (Left) / LMV09 h.t.b. 03 (Right)

The Body of Photography

Having studied photography at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, alongside famous photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, Thomas’ chosen medium is photography. Still, one is inclined to say he is a digital artist not merely a photographer. His experiments with altered and appropriated imagery make him recognizable. He would borrow material from a variety of sources, such as newspapers, textbooks, comics, images on the internet, pornography and his old photographed works. Thomas’ opus offers more than taking photos, as he might use digital manipulation for one piece and antiquated darkroom technique for another. The artist’s series are divided by the most seemingly incompatible categories. His bodies of work include empty domestic interiors, appropriated interplanetary images captured by NASA, computer-generated pop imagery, obscured pornography and abstractions of modernist architecture.

His experiments with altered and appropriated imagery make him recognizable

view 2012 press collection for current copyright contact
Thomas Ruff – Nude Leb 01 – photo via

Large-scale Portraits

In the early 1980s, Ruff’s series of portraits was the first to receive critical acclaim. This series featured groupings of large-scale three-quarter portraits. The kind resembling a passport or a police photo. The startling level of legibility these photos gained, came through their enlarged scale. Despite Thomas’ continuous disavowal of any sociocultural reading of his art, this series seems to beg for such an interpretation. And it is not the only one, as many other photographic series of his induce cultural discourse. However, the artist focuses on aesthetics and process, his opus is eclectic and not defined by genre, theme or method. It is rather his stark imagery, the relative conceptualization of the subject and the subversion of the printed image that characterize Ruff’s work.

Series featrued groupings of large-scale three-quarter portraits

the use of photographic memory for terms of privacy 2012 with press print
Thomas Ruff – Portrait B. Ochaim (Left) / Portrait A. Giese (Right)

Diving in Colors

There is a good reason why Thomas Ruff is acknowledged as a leading innovator among German artists who launched photography into mainstream art. His photography has never been conservative and rule abiding, but open and explorative. Many genres of photography, such as architectural, astrological, portrait and pornographic, have received new perspectives, thanks to Ruff’s means. The artist’s exhibition Photograms and Negatives pulls the spectator in an ocean of colors – blues and greens. Diving through these incredible works of art evokes a new sensation. The pieces framed in glass, reflect the viewer and everything that is happening in the gallery, thus giving the feeling as if it was all a part of the exhibition. Done intentionally or not, this extraordinary perception makes everything and everyone a part of the process, collaborating with the artist’s current work. As Ruff himself says, making photograms is indeed abstract photography, having only shadows with no real objects – what a perfect metaphor of Plato’s cave.

The exhibition with photograms is like an ocean of colors

view new collection in gallery at school
Thomas Ruff – Untitled

Photographic Genious

Born in 1958 in Zell am Harmersbach, Germany, the artist attended Staatliche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf from 1977 to 1985. He was a professor here from 2000 to 2006. His artworks are well known all around the world, and his public collections include Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Gallery, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Thomas Ruff was a pioneer of photography as we know it today, and he keeps surprising the audience with his new ideas and extraordinary talent.

Thomas Ruff currently lives and works in Düsseldorf.

Featured image: Thomas Ruff – portrait – photo via
All images via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2014Thomas Ruff - Ma.r.s. and NegativesGallery Koyanagi, TokyoSolo
2014Thomas Ruff - New WorkMai 36 Galerie, ZurichSolo
2014Thomas Ruff - Photograms And NegativesGagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, CASolo
2014La Gioia Through the eyes of three Italian art collectorsMaison Particulière, BrusselsGroup
2014ClearGagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, CAGroup
2014Damage ControlMUDAM - Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, LuxembourgGroup
2014Intractable and untamed documentary photography around 1979Museum Ludwig, CologneGroup
2014Friendly TakeoverMARTa Herford, HerfordGroup
2014From the CollectionSMAK Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, GhentGroup
2014The Paths of German Art from 1949 to the presentMoscow museum of modern art - MMOMA, MoscowGroup
2014PEOPLE IN A RIVER LANDSCAPEPinakothek der Moderne, MunichGroup
2014Datascape - LaboralCentro de Arte y Creación Industrial, GijónGroup
2014Muse und ModellGalerie Ludorff, DusseldorfGroup
2013Ma.r.sGaleria Helga de Alvear, MadridSolo
2013Under the Influence of Finance and Fashion: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art FoundationCarnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, CAGroup
201393CGAC - Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de CompostelaGroup
2013Damage Control - Art and Destruction Since 1950Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DCGroup
2013UrbanRolla Foundation, BruzellaGroup
2013Somos LibresMATE (Asociación Mario Testino), LimaGroup
2013The Other PortraitMART- Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, RoveretoGroup
2013B.A.B.E - The Best Artists Books and EditorsImmanence, espace d'art contemporain, ParisGroup
2013Cross Over - Fotografie Der Wissenschaft + Wissenschaft Der FotografieFotomuseum Winterthur, WinterthurGroup
2013Still - Photography in the MuseumMODEM Centre for Modern and Contemporary Arts, DebrecenGroup
2013PinkThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2013The Collection As A CharacterMuHKA Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, AntwerpGroup
2013DatascapeBorusan Contemporary, IstanbulGroup
2013For My Eyes OnlyMaribor Art Gallery, MariborGroup
2013Clouds - World of the Ephemeral (Wolken - Welt des Fluechtigen)Leopold Museum, ViennaGroup
2013¡Reset! - Palma DotzeGaleria d´Art, Vilafranca del PenedésGroup
2013The Cassini Cruise III - The RidderA House for Contemporary Art, MaastrichtGroup
2013Through A Glass Darkly - Faces Past And PresentErnst Museum Budapest, BudapestGroup
2013Sex, Money and PowerMaison Particulière, BrusselsGroup
2013After PhotographyThe Columns, SeoulGroup
2013Reality is a very persistent illusionCal Cego - Colleccion de Arte Contemporaneo, BarcelonaGroup
2013Language GamesCentro de Artes Visuales Helga de Alvear, CáceresGroup
2012Thomas Ruff - NudesGagosian Gallery, LondonSolo
2012Thomas Ruff – Stellar LandscapesGoethe-Institut Moskau, MoscowSolo
2010Six Portraits by Thomas RuffHenry Art Gallery, Seattle, WASolo
2009Thomas Ruff - cassini + zyclesGallery Koyanagi, TokyoSolo
2009THOMAS RUFF - Zycles & CassiniGalerie Rüdiger Schöttle, MunichSolo
2009Thomas Ruff - Schwarzwald. LandschaftMuseum für Neue Kunst, FreiburgSolo
2008Thomas Ruff: A retrospectiveMucsarnok Kunsthalle, BudapestSolo
2008Thomas Ruff - zycles + cassiniMai 36 Galerie, ZurichSolo
2007The 1st at Moderna: Thomas RuffModerna Museet, StockholmSolo
2006Thomas Ruff - The Grammar of PhotographyFondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, VeniceSolo
2005Thomas Ruff - JpegsMai 36 Galerie, ZurichSolo
2004Thomas Ruff - Vis à VisStudio d´Arte Contemporanea Pino Casagrande, RomeSolo
2004Thomas Ruff - Neue ArbeitenContemporary Fine Arts - CFA, BerlinSolo
2003Thomas Ruff. Nudes und MaschinenKestnergesellschaft, HannoverSolo
2003Thomas Ruff, 1979 to the PresentTate Liverpool, LiverpoolSolo